Twitter, Dubai and Journalism

Note: I’ve included this post in “Journalism, Globalization and Development” because I felt it related to the question raised in the presentation I did last week on whether social media has led to any changes in journalism or not. While I’ve focused on India till now as the subject for my JNL6027 posts, this time I digress. 

On Tuesday, 11th May 2010, I rolled out of bed, looked at my Twitter feed and froze. I got on a phone call with my mother and said: “Mom, there’s a fire in Sharjah and it’s huge. Expect traffic after you pick Karan up from school.” What’s so weird about that? Not much, other than the fact I was calling her from the comfort of my room in Sheffield to tell her about a fire that started in the United Arab Emirates. That is the power of Twitter.

Twitter is an important part of my life now. Apart from my official account (Shameless plug: @DevinaDivecha), I also handle the account for the magazine the MA Magazine Journalism students created for election week (yet another shameless plug: @SoapboxMagazine).

Two weeks ago, I was part of a group that gave a presentation on blogging and new media activism (you can view it here if you’re interested: JNL6027 on Prezi) and one of the questions that cropped up was whether new media technologies like Twitter, Facebook etc can contribute to responsible journalism or are they a threat.

The incident Tuesday morning made me think of Twitter’s contribution to journalism in the U.A.E. I distinctly remember that it was August 2006 when I first noticed newspapers using blogs as a source for stories. Now, using blogs to hunt for story leads is passé . Twitter is la mode du jour.

The earliest I remember Twitter ‘breaking’ a news story was in August 2009. Then 21-year-old @MaliZomg tweeted that a building had collapsed in a certain part of Dubai. That was enough to get the newshounds on the trail of the story. He was quoted as a verifiable source in reports on news websites because he twitpic’d the scene in front of him (also view this for a timeline of his tweets on the subject). The photo he took was also used in aforementioned stories with due credit. As for the fire in Sharjah on Tuesday, another Twitter user @albertdias, who was on a call on Dubai Eye, gave an eyewitness account on radio and uploaded pictures of the blaze on Twitter. His version of events was the first thing to appear on news websites for the story (Read more about the fire here).

The internet has proved to be a very useful resource for journalists to get leads. However, I must stress that while it’s all very well to find amazing sources online, it doesn’t replace getting out in the field and getting your hands dirty. It has been drummed into me during my MA that we need to combine using real-time information with actual journalistic work. I personally feel that new media technologies can only contribute to journalism but only if used right. Breaking news based on tweets or blogs is acceptable if you can verify that the information is true (for example, more than one person tweeting/blogging about it, pictures) but then what? Following up on the story is important – you can’t just stuff your piece with quotes cut-and-pasted from online without getting some work done yourself.

New media technologies have simply brought sources closer to the journalist – it hasn’t made the sources journalists themselves. Well…not yet anyway.

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